How to make a Viking Helm with hardly any tools.

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How to COLD forge a Viking Helm, or rather a Spangenhelm with hardly any tools.

The name Spangenhelm is of German origin. ‘Spangen’ refers to the metal strips that form the framework for the helmet and could be translated as braces, and ‘-helm’ simply means helmet.

The spangenhelm arrived in Western Europe by way of what is now southern Russia and Ukraine, spread by nomadic Iranian tribes such as the Scythians and Sarmatians who lived among the Eurasian steppes. By the 6th century it was the most common helmet design in Europe and in popular use throughout the Middle East. However, helmets of the spangenhelm type were used much longer. Some of the Nasal helmets depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry from the 11th century appear to be built as a Spangenhelm construction. The same is true for illustrations of the Morgan Bible from the 13th century.

To cold forge your own spangenhelm, you will need a few things.

  • A steel band somewhere between 1.5 to 2 inches wide and long enough to make the band and two cross bands (the spangen). I found some scrap steel bands in my basement.
  • A small sheet of 14 gauge steel for the panels of the helmet. I bought a small sheet (just enough to cut the spangenhelm panels) of 14 gauge steel (cost me about $9 USD, but I could have used scrap. I had a junk washing machine and was going to cut the panels out of it). 
  • A hammer.  A nice short handled 3lb blacksmith’s sledge works nicely, but I used a shop hammer that was heavy enough to pound metal I had in the shed.
  • Something solid and concave to hammer and shape the metal on.   I used a log that I pounded a concave dent on top to pound the curve of the steel bands and the panels to make the helmet.
Hammerforming-BC
Concave bowl pounded into log to shape metal panels. image source: britishv8.org

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I used the top of a log with a ‘mis-cut’ on it to pound and shape my steel bands.

Using a tape measure, I first measured the headband around my head. I made sure to consider a little extra length because I would be wearing padding underneath the helmet. This is the measurement for the band around the helmet.

Next I measured the dome of the helm ear to ear. I looked in the mirror and sort of ‘eyeballed’ how steep I wanted the spangenhelm to be. This is the first cross piece of the spangenhelm.

If you’re not sure were to measure from, put on a hat and use the bottom of the rim as a reference point.

I did the same measurement from front to back. I measured extra just past my nose, where I wanted the guard to end just past my nose. I didn’t want it sticking out too far, because I wanted to be able to drink from a drinking horn while wearing this spangenhelm at the local medieval festival.

Next, I then cut out strips of paper and taped them together to form the spangenhelm frame with the measurements I just took.

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I put the paper pattern on and made adjustments as needed.

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I then used the adjusted measurements of taped strips of paper as my pattern and knew how long of a steel bands I needed. I was lucky and found three scrap steel band strips in my basement and used a hacksaw to cut the strips from the pattern I just made.  These bands should be at least 1 1/2 wide and no longer than about 2 inches. But it is YOUR spangenhelm, you use what you want.  This spangenhelm used by norsemen were not standard in any way. It varied from blacksmith to blacksmith, with some being works of art.

After cutting the steel strips to size with my hacksaw, I used a hammer and the top of a log to hammer the bands into shape.

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After I shaped the steel bands and formed the frame of the spangenhelm, I cut out the four panels. 

Again, I used paper and taped it to the inside of the spangenhelm frame. I first wadded up the paper so it would compensate for the curve shape of the helmet panel.

SpangenPanels640

I cut the panels and marked where each one went and then used a sharpie pen to trace the paper panels on the sheet of 14 gauge steel and cut them out. I used a pair of tin snips to cut mine.

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A pair of aviation snips ( or tin snips or sheet metal shears)

I used a small sheet of 14 gauge steel for the panels of the helmet. It cost me about $9 USD, but once again, I could have used scrap. I had a junk washing machine that I could of cut the panels out of it.

After I cut the panels out, I carefully pounded the concave shape into each panel using a hammer and the end of a log.  I carefully pounded the concave shape into the shape of the panels and then shaped it in the band to make sure it was curved right and fit perfectly.

spangen20
image source: www.arador.com

After I shaped the four panels and marked them, I marked where the rivet holes will be with a marker and drilled them. I then riveted the panels and bands into place using old roofing nails as rivets. You cut off the ends of nails and hammer them in like rivets. Here is a youtube video showing how. 

You can use a ‘pop riveter’, but it doesn’t look as nice or authentic as do the hammered rivets. Don’t worry, hammering in rivets is easy and I didn’t have an anvil, so I layed a hammer down on the concrete and used that as my anvil and then used another hammer to hammer them into place.

This is a really easy project that anyone can do. You can definitely do this!

Here is the pattern I found at arador.com. I did not use parts 8,9, or 10, because I chose to just wear a chainmail coif underneath my spangenhelm.

 – Click spangenhelm pattern below to enlarge it –

 

 

spangenpattern
Here is the pattern I found at arador.com –  I did not use parts 8,9, or 10, I chose to were a chainmail coif underneath . –  Click on the spangenhelm pattern above to enlarge it.

You can also make a paper mache’ (papier-mâché) spangenhelm and spray paint it to look like metal for costume parties or Halloween.

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Papier-mâché spangenhelm

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  • Spangenhelm on featured image courtesy of Jeffrey Hildebrandt, royaloakarmoury.com.
  • You can also purchase a spangenhelm like the one featured by an experienced armourer at Royal Oak Armoury

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by Njord Kane © 2016 Spangenhelm Publishing


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Copyright © 2015-2017 Spangenhelm Publishing – All rights reserved. No part may be reproduced in any written, electronic, recording, or photocopying form without written permission of the author, Njord Kane, or the publisher, Spangenhelm Publishing. <visit website
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Njord Kane is an infantry and cavalry veteran who also served in law enforcement just prior to entering into the world of academia where he pursued the disciplines of military science, social psychology, and anthropology. Having left his profession, he now takes care of his adult autistic sons at home while passionately writing about early Norse and Mesoamerican culture and history at spangenhelm.com and readicon.com. Kane is also the author of numerous books including, The Vikings, The Maya, and The Viking Hero Series.

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